KPG’s way too early, preseason Class 5A Top 5 Football Poll

This is a hard classification to judge. I mean, how is Covington Catholic, a team which, aside from Louisville Trinity, beats any other high school football team in the Commonwealth of Kentucky in any other classification last year, hope to replace a quarterback who threw for over 3,000 yards and for 40 TDs, suffering only 3 interceptions? How does Bowling Green High School replace a head coach like Kevin Wallace and absorb the loss of Justice Dingle at LB and Ziyon Kenner at receiver? Can Owensboro throw the football? Is Brandon Smith, at South Warren, going to have Gavin Spurrier return for his senior season or is Gavin going with his father to Pullman, Washington? Is this South Oldham‘s year in spite of losing a three year starter at QB, or are they one year away? Why would Phillip Hawkins leave an 8-4, Class 5A, Louisville Doss team to coach at Class 5A Owensboro Apollo? What does he know that we don’t? When is the most tradition rich program in Kentucky, Ft. Thomas Highlands, going to regain its foothold on Kentucky football? When is Larry French going to start delivering the type of Championships at Southwestern the Somerset crowd expected of him when hired? Can perennial Class 5A power Christian County replace successfully 15 out of 22 position players who exhausted their eligibility last year? Can Madison Southern win it all this year, despite heavy losses, returning the best offensive line in the Commonwealth, particularly AFI-KPG Sophomore All-Stater, Dane Jackson, at the center position? I don’t know if I have all the answers or any of the answers, but here is what I think I know…

Bowling Green High School Purples, No. 1;

This feels like such a copout. I mean for the past decade or so Bowling Green High School has been the favorite to win the classification in football. It is similar to picking an, in his prime, Tiger Woods at Master’s time. Historically, not a brave pick. However, every championship won at BGHS in football, except 1, was won with Kevin Wallace at the helm. Wallace has taken his talents to Louisville, Kentucky to help St. Xavier solve the Trinity riddle. Recently, the Purples hired Defensive Coordinator, Mark Spader, to fill Wallace’s shoes. There are some across the Commonwealth who have expressed being underwhelmed by the hire. In Spader’s other head coaching stint, he was 10-20 while at Warren East before leaving to become an assistant with Wallace at Bowling Green HS. I would remind people the last time BGHS elevated an assistant, who before coming on BGHS’s staff, had a poor head coaching record compiled at Warren East (Kevin Wallace) it worked out pretty well for the Purples.

Bowling Green lost in the Regional Finals to a South Warren team it had annihilated just  a few weeks earlier in the regular season. Coach Spader won’t have Ziyon Kenner around on whom to lean as he is taking his 56 receptions for 801 yards and 9 receiving TDs and 108 total points scored to Clarksville, Tennessee to join Will Healy’s juggernaut. Also departing is the top-rated linebacker in Kentucky, Justice Dingle, who tallied 109 tackles last season and decided to become a rambling wreck from Georgia Tech, and a hell of an engineer…

What the Purples do return is a starting QB in Beau Buchanan for completed 162 of his 251 passing attempts for 2,287 yards and 25 passing TDs against only 3 interceptions. Buchanan lost the running talents of Dazhon Blakely but still has AFI-KPG Sophomore All-Stater Vito Tisdale and Jayvon Collins to run the football for him. With Kenner and Nash Hightower both departing, there is a question as to whom will step up and catch Buchanan’s passes next season. However, with one of the top middle school programs in Kentucky over the past 5 years, there will be someone, and he will very likely be talented. In Bowling Green they re-load, not re-build.

On defense, which is Spader’s specialty, the Purples return the best secondary in Kentucky with Juniors Davis Tomblinson and Jaylen Wardlow having another year of eligibility left and the highest rated DB in Kentucky, Vito Tisdale, having two. The trio gained for their offense, last season, an extra 10 possessions by way of interception. The Purples also return 4 of its 5 top tacklers in rising seniors William Gray, Miles Smith, and Ethan Klein together with rising junior, Evan Spader, who like his daddy was before him, is quite good at football.

Still, it is hard to accurately measure the impact of the school’s all-time head ball coach leaving, but with what is returning, if there is a decline, it won’t be immediate. I am picking Bowling Green to win it all in 5A this year as I believe Spader will answer all questions more than satsifactorily about the wisdom of his selection to guide the Purples’ fortunes.

Owensboro (Senior) High School, N0. 2;

The Red Devils performed terribly last year, much worse than expected. That is the bad news. The good news, next year should be much better. Owensboro Middle School had a two year run where it didn’t lose a single game in football. The players on those teams beat Brentwood Academy in Nashville and had Bowling Green Middle School on a running clock early in the second quarter in a year BGMS played for the Division I Championship, losing in overtime to Newburg Middle. The players on those teams will be sophomores and juniors in HS next season. It is time for them to emerge, and if they do, Owensboro is going to be TOUGH!

Here’s what we know about some of the young talent which has already emerged. The Red Devils boast one of the best athletes in Kentucky in AFI-KPG Sophomore All-Stater Imonte Monte Owseley. While a sophomore, Monte ran the ball 58 times gaining 685 yards with 11 rushing TDs. That is averaging nearly 12 yards a carry, scoring a rushing TD every 5.27 times he was handed the ball. Monte caught 13 passes for 301 yards receiving for over 23 yards per reception with 5 receiving TDs. On defense Owsley intercepted a pass, recovered a fumble, and recorded 19 tackles.

The worst part is opponents of OHS have two more years of dealing with that crap.  Owsley has a registered 40 yard dash of well under 4.4 seconds and, at the SIU HS Boys Indoor Invitational his freshman year, he turned in a 7.12 60 meter time participating for Owensboro’s Track Team. According to KYTracXC, the 60 meter to 40 yard conversion is to take the 60m time and multiply by .6096 to identify the time it would take to run 40 yards. Under the accepted formula, Owsley’s forty time, when a freshman, was 4.34. Monte Owsley may be the fastest football player in Kentucky not named Rondale Moore.  Ezekiel Brown returns at QB but, truthfully, was more effective running the ball than throwing it. Brown gained 497 yards running with 8 rushing TDs last year on 66 carries but only threw it 58 times, completing 24, for 492 yards passing with 5 TDs against 4 interceptions.  Owensboro will miss Josh Cowherd but still have Owsley’s 86 points and Brown’s 48 back on which to fall.

Now, I have just learned some information which is a game changer. I have heard from two reliable sources Will Warren, from Owensboro Catholic, who was starting over Drew Hartz before being concussed, has transferred to Owensboro Senior to play QB. This would move Ezekiel Brown to RB with Owsley. I have also heard the Red Devils are going to transition to the Spread offense. This would give OHS the type of two-pronged, offensive balance which would make them Class 5A Championship contenders. Hartz, who started out second team to Will Warren at Catholic last year, completed 117 passes of his 198 attempts for 1,805 yards with 26 TDs against 8 picks. With the 6-2, 210 pound Warren already enrolled at OHS, provided he gets clearance from the KHSAA to play QB, and if they change offensively and install the Spread, with the weapons they can put on the field at RB, then Owensboro Senior High becomes, at best, the favorite and, at least, a serious contender for the 5A State Championship.

Defensively, Owensboro should be particularly good. The Red Devils return the best LB in his class in Western Kentucky and, some would say, anywhere in Kentucky in the 2021 graduating class. AFI-KPG Freshman All-Stater Austin Gough returns for a sophomore campaign after tallying 92 tackles as a freshman. Playing along side him is a rising junior who should have made the AFI-KPG Sophomore All-State team, and in many years would have.  LB Trace Grenier, as a sophomore, collected 70 tackles and will return to provide the defense with the best tandem of LBs in the classification. Also coming back for a senior year where we hope he isn’t nagged with injury like he was in his junior campaign is super-star, 0-3 technique, Diamond Glover. Glover is compact, bottom heavy, and one of the most physically stout players any team in Kentucky can boast.

To return to the type of football we expect to see from OHS, Owensboro has to develop a passing attack to balance out what it does well offensively, and that is run the football. I believe OHS has addressed this through the Warren transfer, provided he gets cleared to play. If some of the young talent comes along, as it should, and should Owensboro develop an effective passing attack, these guys could win it all. Like some say of South Oldham, this team is still considered by some to be a year away.

South Oldham High School Dragons, No. 3;

There are people out there who still believe this team is a year away. I am not so sure they haven’t already arrived. The Dragons from South Oldham consistently win 11-12 games a year under HC Jamie Reed. Sure the Dragons lost three year starting quarterback, Drew Zaubi, to graduation, but they run the ball 75% of the time anyway in its Wing T attack so who cares? They need a ball handler/game manager more so than a passer and they are sure to have one of those on the roster somewhere. Aside from QB, where the need is for more of a game manager than a game changer, the cupboard is hardly barren. The Dragons return an impressive core of playmakers on offense, especially at RB.

It is quintessential to run the football. In High School football that may be particularly true. You may have noticed that teams returning stud running backs tend to fair well in my classification, preseason polls. A stud running back hides a lot of ailments in football at the high school level. Well, the Dragons return AFI-KPG Sophomore All-State RB Keaton Martin. Martin surpassed 1500 yards rushing both his freshman and sophomore seasons. As before discussed, South Oldham’s Wing-T runs the ball 75% of the time, which is why I predict this team will overcome losing a three year starter at QB.  If they can find a game manager/ball handler for the quarterback position, and if Martin continues on his present pace, we may be talking about an all-time Kentucky rushing record before he leaves.

It’s not like there aren’t any targets for throwing the ball should the offense elect. The Dragons have AFI-KPG All-State Receiver Ethan Benarczyk to stretch the field for them. During his sophomore season, Ethan led South Oldham in receptions, TDs receiving, and yards per catch at 25, and at 5-10 and 180 pounds, Ethan plays and looks similar to a Wes Welker/Julian Edelman type. The Dragons also boast one of the best pure athletes in his class in AFI-KPG Sophomore All-Stater JT Benson. Benson never comes off the field for the Dragons whether it is offense, defense, or special teams. JT has committed to play baseball in college for Dan McDonnell’s, Top-5 rated, program at the University of Louisville. Also at the slot the Dragons return Colton Bowlden, who doubles on defense at LB, and who, last year, gained 619 yards rushing, averaging 16 yards per carry.

On defense, the Dragons return at LB both Bowlden and Mason Bowman who lead the defense in tackles last year with 79 stops. Now, the Dragons have more players playing on both sides of the ball than a lot of people prefer in Class 5A, but assuming the two-way players are as in shape, as they have been the last few years, they should make it work as they have always done.

This much I know, South Oldham will win Class 5A, District 3 for the 7th consecutive time. In the back of your mind you also have to remember they had a middle school team which played for the State Championship, at that level, in 2015, who should be coming into their own now, if ever. What I am trying to tell you is, this might be South Oldham’s year, and if not this year, then certainly next.

Covington Catholic High School, No. 4;

I will be roasted for this pick. I have heard from everyone consulted how Covington Catholic is a machine, how they are unbeatable, and how Noah Powers will make everyone forget the name AJ Mayer. Yeah, I know they were 15-0 last year and outscored their opponents 679-116 and won the Championship game last year 49-13 over Madison Southern. I watched it. I also know Covington Catholic has one of the better feeder systems in the Commonwealth of Kentucky pumping players yearly into its roster. Let’s hope so, because they really lost a lot. I mean A LOT!

Now, Case McGinness, who from his RB position scored 158 of the team’s 679 points himself, is back for his senior year. During the junior campaign, McGinness ran the ball 200 times and gained 1,418 yards with 22 rushing TDs. McGinness will likely have to shoulder the whole load this year as AJ Mayer’s 451 rushing yards and 14 rushing scores have departed as has Grant Dyer’s 282 rushing yards and 4 scores. The running game with McGinness being back, is, principally, why Covington Catholic comes in at No. 3.

Passing is another story. Catholic relied heavily on its aerial attack last season as the best QB in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, AJ Mayer, is taking his 3,114 passing yards with 40 passing TDs against only 3 interceptions to play at Miami of Ohio. The second highest passer on last year’s roster was Caleb Jacob who threw for only 13 more yards, last year, than I did; and I am sitting on zilch. Covington Catholic sings the praises of Noah Powers, the sophomore, and say that, while shorter than Mayer, he is an excellent passer and a tremendous athlete. I suppose we shall see. He didn’t throw a varsity ball last season.

Powers will have some receivers to target as Jack Coldiron will return for his senior year.
As a junior, Coldiron caught 28 passes, 11 of which were touchdowns. Malachi Pike, Mayer’s favorite target from a year ago (41 receptions, 695 yards receiving, 9 TD receptions), has exhausted his eligibility. Covington Catholic, provided they find someone to throw it to him, does have the top TE prospect in Kentucky in AFI-KPG Sophomore All-Stater Michael Mayer. Michael Mayer, who started 13 games last season as a sophomore, is 6-5 and weighs around 215 and has the length and frame to hold a lot more weight. While he only caught 10 passes last year for 177 yards and 3 TDs, he did average 13.6 yards per receptions and he was an active and punishing blocker in a ground attack which saw Covington Catholic gain around 3,000 yards rushing on the year.

How good is Michael Mayer as a TE? Well good enough to be holding offers right now from two Power 5, FBS schools in UK and Minnesota. As for athletic pedigree, in addition to AJ, Michael has a cousin, Luke Maile, who played four years of baseball at UK and now plays for the Toronto Blue Jays.

On defense, Covington Catholic losses seniors Adam Schneider, Luke Lenihan, and Tanner Bayer who had 11 picks between the three. They also lose two of its three top tacklers in Kameron Butler (82 tackles) and Grant Dyer (55 tackles) but return Jacob Shriver who had 70 stops last season.

I know they are a machine and all, but with what they lost, I just can’t see them being as good as last year and they will enter every game with a target on their backs. They smacked a lot of opponents in the mouth last year and a lot of them will be searching for payback. Whether they get revenge or beat down even worse this year will rely on what kind of quarterback play they get this upcoming season. If it even approaches what they got last year from AJ Mayer, they will repeat. If not…

South Warren High School, No. 5; 

There is a huge question to be answered here for Coach Brandon Smith’s Spartans. Where is Gavin Spurrier playing QB next year…Bowling Green, Kentucky or Pullman, Washington? I have heard both answered to my inquiries depending on whom I ask. Now, Gavin Spurrier’s grandfather is the Old Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier; himself a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, back in the day. For what Gavin lacked in aesthetic beauty at the position last year, the gangly 6-6 inch QB, made up for in smarts and moxie!

South Warren went 11-3 last year, losing to Covington Catholic in the State Semis. That really is not an ill-reflection on the Spartans as no-one, other than Louisville Trinity, was beating Covington Catholic last year. Gavin completed 175 of his 286 passing attempts for 21 touchdowns, through the air, suffering 8 interceptions. Watching him play more than once, I was impressed with the decisions he made with the football and the football IQ he exhibited running the offense more than anything mechanical I saw him perform. He was like having a coach on the field which is a hard commodity to replace. Now he is slated to be back for his senior year. If he is, South may be better than where I have them ranked here, if he isn’t, they may be fighting to finish over .500.

Running the football, the Spartans lose Christian Winn’s 916 yards from scrimmage and 14 rushing touchdowns. They also lose Tryce Jackson who gained 320 yards last season himself. Two of Spurrier’s top three favorite targets are gone in Marcus Elmore (37 receptions for 558 yards and 2 scores) and Cody Eblen (30 receptions for 488 yards, 6 scores) but Spurrier, should he be around, will have returning probably his favorite target, last season, in Clayton Bush. Bush caught 37 balls for 616 yards and 7 scores for Spurrier as a junior.

Now, the Spartans weren’t bad offensively, last year, scoring a little over 30 points a game, or 424 total points over 14 games played. However, Winn, Eblen, and Jackson scored 191 of the 424 points between the three. With their departure, the Spartans lose a little over 45% of last year’s total team, point production. If for any reason Gavin Spurrier’s 42 points he scored (not counting the 21 TD passes he threw) are also gone, the Spartans would lose 55% of its previous season’s point production.

Defensively, the Spartans graduate Greg Byrd who intercepted 10 passes and recovered a fumble but do return both Tre Teague and Tryce Jackson who accounted for 7 extra offensive possessions between the two by either fumble recovery or interception. What has to be encouraging is that Pete Cross, who along with VanHooser at Caldwell, were the best HS LBs I saw play last year not named Dingle, is back along with his 118 tackles he had a year ago. Cross will still have the benefit of the opponent’s focus on the Rivals, Midwest Region, top rated DT, and Notre Dame commitment, Jacob Lacy being in front of him garnering the attention. Lacey’s 51 tackles a year ago don’t even begin to encapsulate his impact for the Spartan defense. Juniors Tre Teague (97 tackles) and Clayton Bush (63 tackles) are also returning. The Defense, the strength of the team last season (allowing 16 points per contest with only 1500 yards rushing and 1,823 yards through the air given up over 14 games), looks to be even stouter next year with most its weapons returning both a year more experienced and a year more mature.

Teams we also like…

Owensboro Apollo

Appollo went 7-4 last year before bowing out of the playoffs, dispatched by a Greenwood team which really struggled until that game. Apollo has a new coach this year in Phillip Hawkins who came over from Louisville Doss, a 5A team, which went 8-4 itself last year. People have to wonder why he would laterally move. The Eagles return a thousand yard rusher in Mariano McKenzie who also scored 8 rushing TDs last year and Colby Clark returns at QB for his senior season. As a junior, Clarks threw for 1,342 yards with 14 passing TDs. We love big strong lineman at KPG and Apollo has Daniel D.C. Boone. Boone is 6-1, 305 pounder who was just crowned the Heavyweight Powerlifting Champion in Kentucky with a bench and power clean of 655 combined pounds (415 bench, 240 PC). The player called Man-Mountain should clear the way for the run game quite nicely and Apollo will improve on last year’s 7-4 record.

Soutwestern High School and Ft. Thomas Highlands…at Southwestern they employ one of the best HC’s in high school history in Kentucky in Larry French. He knows how to win and they certainly have won big in football in Somerset before so look for them to break out. There isn’t a more successful program in all of Kentucky than the program known merely as Highlands. They have been down recently but their steady ascent has been consistent and noticeable. They may not be back this year but it won’t be too much longer.

Madison Southern lost in last year’s State Championship game badly to Covington Catholic. Lost a lot of players. Does return one of the best, if not the best, offensive lines in Kentucky. Dane Jackson is the class of the Center/Guards in Kentucky in my humble opinion.

This is how we see it at KPG. Take it for whatever you may find it is worth. This has been Fletcher Long reporting for Kentucky Prep Gridiron reminding you to PLAY THROUGH THE WHISTLE!

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About Fletcher Long 1511 Articles
Two-time winner of Kentucky Press Association awards for excellence in writing and reporting news stories while Managing Editor of the Jackson (KY) Times-Voice

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